Most of us are planning on heating and cooking with wood when the power goes out or the grid goes down. But to make it through winter requires somewhere between four and six chords of firewood. At today’s prices, that’s a hefty investment. But I don’t have a single dollar invested in my stockpile of firewood, other than for gasoline.

Yet there are a number of strategies you can use for building your firewood stockpile that won’t cost you any more than they’ve cost me:

Clearing the Streets After a Storm

It’s not uncommon for severe storms to cause tree branches to come crashing down. While trees are resilient, there is a limit, especially with old trees or trees that have branches with a large horizontal reach. A severe storm can leave people’s front yards and even the streets littered with dead branches.

Cleaning up that mess can take days and cost the city a small fortune. So why not do a little community service work? Go out about the neighborhood, cutting up those trees and hauling them off. Nobody needs to know that you’re hauling them to your own backyard, where you’re turning them into firewood. Besides, I doubt if anyone would care.

You can actually do this with almost no waste, if you plan it out right. The larger branches can be fuel, smaller ones can be turned into kindling and the leaves and twigs can either go into your composting operation or can be mixed with chopped-up newspapers and molded to turn them into fuel, as well.

Just check with your city maintenance department before you do this. You’re much less likely to run into trouble with the city if you let them know what you’re doing, before you start. Some union members may complain about you, so having management aware that you’re a civic-minded citizen can help them defend you.

Trimming Your Trees

Speaking of tree branches falling, I’m sure you’ve had that happen in your own yard. I’ve got at least one chord of wood in my pile that has come from my own trees. One died and I had to cut it down, another is old and has had some branches break off in storms, and the old oak had some dead branches that had to be removed.

Of course, if you prune your trees, you’re going to be removing some branches, too. Just because you feel that your trees don’t need those branches, doesn’t mean that they’re a waste. Good wood is good wood, no matter where it comes from.

Trimming Other Peoples’ Trees

Since you’ve already equipped yourself to cut down and cut up your own tree branches, why not extend your reach to others? Keep your eyes open for people who have dead trees or trees that are breaking due to age and weight. Offer to cut those dead limbs off or remove the tree. That will greatly expand your wood pile and only cost you a Saturday afternoon here and there.